UK peers criticise EU withdrawal bill

© Maurice
© Maurice

Peers in the UK’s House of Lords have criticised a proposed EU Withdrawal bill as ‘fundamentally flawed’ and warned that serious revisions are needed.

The bill is designed to bring existing EU law into UK law, in preparation for the country’s exit from the bloc in March 2019, and has already been voted through the House of Commons. It will reach the Lords tomorrow (30 January) for what is expected to be fierce debate over two days.

In a report published ahead of the debate, the Lords constitution committee said that, in its current form, the bill risks undermining legal certainty and requires significant revisions. Baroness Taylor, chair of the committee, offered strong criticism of the bill as it is currently worded: “We acknowledge the scale, challenge and unprecedented nature of the task of converting existing EU law into UK law, but as it stands this bill is constitutionally unacceptable.”

What is wrong with the EU Withdrawal bill?

The cross-party group highlighted a number of specific concerns with the bill. One issue the committee raised is the idea of creating a new category of retained EU laws, which the group warned would cause “problematic uncertainties and ambiguities”.

The committee also noted its concern with a proposal that would allow ministers sweeping powers to amend regulations without being subject to full parliamentary scrutiny. These new powers were ‘overly broad’ and ‘unacceptably wide’, it said.

A third area of concern for the peers was the failure to establish with the Scottish and Welsh administrations an agreement over the devolution of the new laws. This could have “significant constitutional repercussions”, the committee warned.

How might the bill change?

The bill has already been subject to hundreds of attempts to revise it, and there are expected to be a number of proposals for further revisions as a result of the debate. These might include:

  • Allowing the UK parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal;
  • Adding a time limited transitional period;
  • Removing the government’s fixed date for Brexit; and
  • Enhancing protections on rights derived from EU legislation.

Angela Smith, leader of the Labour Party in the Lords, told the Guardian that her party plans to support many of the above amendments, to ensure that the bill acts as “an enabling measure for, rather than an obstacle to a transitional period”. However, even with these revisions, it is possible that the bill could be defeated in a vote, with crossbench support from remain-supporting peers.

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